Cast of Wonders 300: The Death Knight, the Dragon and the Damsel

Show Notes

This week’s episode art is from Le livre et la vraye hystoire du bon roy Alixandre. It details Alexander the Great battling against two-headed, eight-legged, crowned dragons with multiple eyes along their torsos (Royal MS 20 B XX, f. 78v). It dates to between 1420 and 1425 CE.

Music attribution: Village Consort by Kevin MacLeod ( Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License.

Escape Pod’s Flash Fiction contest returns to the Solar System this year, running April 15-30, 2018.

The Death Knight, the Dragon and the Damsel

by Melion Traverse

Cold afternoon light stretched in thin patches on the stone floor of the great hall. Jaw and guts tight and trembling, I stood at attention with twenty other squires, armor clean and new as our hopeful futures. For four years, we had trained with sword and shield under the patronage of Duke Amlick. Four years tinged in blood and exhaustion. All for the hope that one of the knights roaming among our lines would pick us from the group like a hound pup plucked from its litter. Twenty squires and only twelve knights—Duke Amlick believed his knights ought to have options. Eight of us would go home with tails between our legs.

One by one the knights claimed their squires and I watched my companions go to their new lives, eyes bright with the glory they would win. I stood with eyes half-closed against the fear that I would be left. I, Cori Forsmire, from one of Duke Amlick’s oldest houses, would have to sell my sword as a common guard. What was I going to tell my father?

Each knight strode past me without a cursory glance. None paused to ask me any questions on protocol or tactics. Soon ten of us remained and the sweat drizzled cold down my back. Oh gods, please, don’t make me explain this to my father.

Sir Renwid hesitated before me, an ostrich plume dyed an outrageous green fluttering in his cap. An hour before, I would have begged the gods to let the silly man with bell-tipped shoes and a preening ego pass me by. But now that ten squires remained, I prayed beneath my breath to the gods that Sir Renwid would choose me. So he loved to hear his name in songs? So he preferred taverns to tournaments? I could stomach some vanity if it meant salvaging my fast-imploding future, if it meant not telling my father that I, a Forsmire, had been unworthy of squiring for a knight.

But even Sir Renwid passed me by with the soft, mocking jingle of bells.

Oh gods. Oh gods. Oh­—

“Cori Forsmire,” rasped a cold voice and my knees almost gave out with relief.

I looked about to see which knight had saved me.

Oh. Oh gods.

Standing back from the group, arms folded across his chest and cloak swept casually back, one knight watched with flickering eyes. Sir Cedric. My stomach went cold.

I’d been spared the embarrassment of slinking back home to my parents, telling them that I had failed. But I wasn’t sure I was prepared for the alternative.

The salvation of my future had one small catch: Sir Cedric, my knight, was dead.

“Well, get moving, girl,” Sir Cedric ordered. “We have things to do.” And then he turned on his heels and strode from the hall in a clatter of armor, leaving me to follow whenever my knees decided to start working again.

Many a bard had recited the origins of Sir Cedric’s unnatural condition, but if any of them told truly, I’d not seen Sir Cedric’s eyes blaze any deeper at a particular telling. Some sang of a dragon’s curse, others of an ill-chosen pact, still more claimed that my knight had sworn to forebear the grave and walked the earth by sheer force of his incorrigible will. Whatever the truth, I had begun my career as a death knight’s squire.

We set out that very evening from the castle. I had just enough time to send a vague letter to my father about my acceptance—I seemed to have forgotten the detail of my master’s name, but no matter. What did matter was that I would carry the Forsmire legacy with honor as a squire.

“Cori, don’t lag behind,” Sir Cedric called in a voice jagged as gravel.

“May I ask where we’re going, sir?” I had drawn next to him and his eyes flashed blue as he turned towards me. A tremble caught my spine and I gulped deeply enough to nearly choke. It would take some getting used to, squiring for a man who Grandmother would have described as looking like death on a biscuit. Gods love Grandmother and her quaint turns of phrase, but as I faced a man whose eyes had rotted away to cerulean embers and whose skin curled away from the bones, I would have agreed with her. Grandmother also taught me about the rudeness of staring. I averted my eyes.

Sir Cedric merely answered, “To Burlund Castle.” After several paces, he added, “We’re going to rescue a damsel.”

My answer: “Ah.” There I’d gone, letting my mind run to thoughts of glory and adventure to set those fireside bards a-quivering. I mean, honestly, I had a death knight for a master. A death knight! Leave the idiot damsels to the likes of Sir Renwid with his wild-plumed helmets and his penchant for spewing forth verses of his own devising. A death knight should be galloping off to vanquish unslayable ogres and to stand against the forces of man’s wildest nightmares.

And he should take me with him, of course, since that’s what a squire’s for. But damsels? I scrunched my brow.

“I see,” I said and just remembered it wasn’t my place to sound peevish about my knight’s quests, even if they reeked of stupidity. “Gotten herself captured by a dragon, has she?” Or perhaps a wizard.

Damsels often found themselves in distress, what with arcane caster-types always binding them in hidden realms. Actually, hidden realms might be rather promising—not many squires got to adventure into the hidden realms right out of the gate.

“That she has.” So much for the hidden realms. He sounded almost as bored with the idea as I was, but I think that was because after one hundred and fifty years of undeath, he was a difficult man to not bore. “You don’t sound enthusiastic,” he commented. “It’s rather important, you know. Can’t have people thinking Duke Amlick turns a blind eye to the ensnaring of innocents.”

I wondered if he could roll his eyes, because I heard profound eye-rolling in his tone.

“Lady Esla often goes on these sorts of quests,” Sir Cedric explained as we rode, “but she’s been detained with other matters.”

“Such as?”

“Something about an unslayable ogre, if I recall.”

I sighed and Sir Cedric must have heard because he flinched before continuing.

“Duke Amlick used to send living knights on these quests, but that generally degraded into a prolonged rutting season.” Sir Cedric barked a dry laugh. “The damsels could damned-near die of old age before anybody even properly set out. Lots of infighting in the court, too—bad for morale.”

“I see. Still, I think if your stock and trade is rescuing damsels, you might have chosen a boy squire; I should think a boy might find this a bit more, uh, interesting than I do.” I felt bold enough to suggest that course since Sir Cedric had already chosen me and couldn’t send me back.

“Precisely why I didn’t. It’s counter-productive to have a squire like that mooning over every attention-starved female of noble birth. Besides, I hate poetry.”

Burlund Castle lay on the outer edges of the Duke’s land, nearly two weeks’ ride from his own castle. I knew of Burlund only as a crumbling wreck long ago abandoned and occasionally sung about in ghastly ballads, although Sir Cedric claimed peasants still lived and farmed in its shadow. Just like a dragon to take refuge in a rotting, ghoul-blighted old heap that would probably crash down around our ears if we—that is, if I—breathed too deeply. Dratted damsels.

Only a few days into the quest, I got my first chance at adventure as we approached the bridge guarded by the Silver Knight. There stood the legendary knight with his armor ablaze in the sunlight and his banner snapping at the breeze like a hungry wolf. Every one of us squires knew the story: no knight could cross the bridge unless he did battle with the Silver Knight. My pulse went into a frenzy as I tried to calmly unsling my knight’s shield from my horse while offering him his lance. Finally, I was going to see a battle worthy of any mead hall.

And what did my knight do?

“Just hold up the shield for him to see,” Sir Cedric ordered in his gruff, raspy voice. Then he even waved away his lance. My mouth opened to protest and I quickly remembered my role. Right. Look after my knight, keep his arms and armor, obey his orders. Shield aloft, we approached. As we drew closer and my hands set to trembling with the anticipation of the Silver Knight’s inevitable charge, Sir Cedric jerked his hand towards the sigil on his shield. From across the distance, the Silver Knight started with surprise and immediately raise his lance skyward. We passed unchallenged as our horses clopped across the bridge.

“What was that about?” I asked as we reached the other side and the Silver Knight had resumed his post with lance at the ready. “I mean, the Silver Knight is nearly as legendary as you are! That would’ve been some fight!”

I received a look that could have boiled water. “Neither he nor I stood to gain a damned thing from such a fight. As you said, he’s ‘nearly’ as legendary as I, so what honor do I gain from defeating him? And he can’t kill me, so why should he set himself up for death? Sensible fellow, that one.”
Sensible. Right. My stomach turned mildly sour at the thought of my comrades off chasing the questing hart or riding out after the Wild Hunt. I mean, even Sir Renwid who loved declaiming poetry like a mead hall bard wouldn’t have turned down the duel with the Silver Knight. Such thoughts did not become a squire, I knew, and I tried to press them back and hold them like a fox surrounded by hounds, but just like the fox, those thoughts could wriggle free with uncanny agility and run wild.

I had thought riding with a death knight would be an endless clash of adventure. But over the following days? I began to wonder if Sir Cedric had chosen me precisely because I was useless. After all, if none of the others had glanced at me, why would Sir Cedric have waited to pick a second-rate squire? The Forsmire name is a powerful one. Could Duke Amlick have ordered him to choose me so that my parents would not be shamed? Give the useless squire to the death knight who refuses duels.

Is that what had happened?

Two days out from Burlund and not a whiff of a side adventure to stir my hopes, I found those crafty fox-thoughts sidling back into my mind. What sort of squire was I? Gods, no wonder I’d been the last one chosen. Yet, how would I learn to be a knight if my master just rode past all the knightly challenges? Would I always be Cori Forsmire who bought her rank with her parents’ name?

Thus went my thoughts when Sir Cedric suddenly reined to a halt.
“Son of a swamp trollop!” he muttered and I remembered to not laugh. But really, I think “damn it” would’ve done nicely. Still, I pulled my horse next to the knight.

“What’s the matter, sir?” Who knew a corpse could look sheepish? But Sir Cedric, the famed death knight, did not even raise his head. Instead, he motioned slowly to the ground. “Could you—uh, that is—well,” he fumbled and I, confused, followed his gaze and saw the problem. A gauntleted hand lay on the ground. Oh.

Picking up the disembodied appendage, I looked up at Sir Cedric who had averted his face. I knew shame when I saw it. One of the Duke’s finest knights—hell, his most feared knight—now had to admit his weakness to a girl who had spent the past several days deriding his courage. I hadn’t said anything aloud, but the Gods know I’m no card player; every bitter thought probably surfaced on my face for Sir Cedric to treasure.

“I have bandages in my pack,” he said in a defeated voice that rasped even more than usual. “Duke Amlick’s mage can reattach it, so if I can just bandage it on . . .”

“I’ll bandage it, sir,” I volunteered as I rummaged among the supplies. “After all, what sort of squire lets her knight start falling apart?”

“Thank you, Cori,” he answered. “I had thought perhaps. . . . No, that does not matter.”

“Well,” I said when I had secured the bandages tightly and folded the cuff of the gauntlet back down, “I suppose we should get going. Damsels in distress don’t rescue themselves, do they?”

“Oh gods, that I wish they would,” he muttered.

We rode for several hours and I was feeling a bit more daring, at least daring enough, that I asked, “If you don’t mind, how did you become a death knight? Is it really because you refuse to die?”

“Ha. Refuse to die. I’ve always liked that telling myself. But no, it’s nothing like that.” He paused and then adopted the sort of tone that precedes the offering of deep wisdom, “Let me give you some advice, Cori. Should you ever have a couple pints of ale and decide ‘twould be clever to ride off with the robe of the Skeletal One while he’s having a wash-up in the hot springs . . . don’t.”

That was not exactly the sagely life lesson that I was expecting. In fact, I felt a bit like a dog that has finally caught its own tail: vaguely stupid and rather disappointed.

“You mean all of this is because you stole Death’s robe while he was bathing?” Small wonder he didn’t correct the bards about dragons’ curses and such.

“That would be correct.”

“Wait. Death bathes?”

“Apparently. Though I think he was just visiting the waters for relaxation. I can’t imagine he’s got an easy job, even without inebriated fools absconding with his robe.”

I didn’t think any tavern in the realm had enough drink to make me bold enough to steal Death’s robes. That bore thinking on.

The afternoon sun blazed with full ferocity as we approached the castle, and now that we had left the forests, I itched and fidgeted in my mail shirt as the metal sat hot against my damp gambeson. I tried to distract myself from my discomfort by studying the countryside for signs of the dragon—after all, a surprise dragon attack would be a lot more than uncomfortable.

Before us, farmland swept out before the ruins and thatch-roofed homes speckled the fields.

Having never seen a dragon, I didn’t know what to expect; but from the fireside tales, I expected to see charred earth, burnt homes, half-eaten bodies turning putrid in the sun (which then made me wonder why this heat didn’t turn Sir Cedric putrid, but I remembered common decency and held my tongue and thanked the gods I didn’t have to deal with that). What I did not expect was to see people farming and working while a dragon’s stronghold quite literally loomed over them. Men repaired thatch on the roofs, women and boys harvested from orchards. It looked like any daily scene from near Duke Amlick’s castle.

And yet, it didn’t. The scene seemed wrong, the sort of obvious wrong as though I were wearing my clothes backward. And still, I couldn’t explain what seemed so unacceptably different.

Boys scrambling in the high branches of trees paused. A man driving his sheep from pasture broke his stride as he tried to surreptitiously watch us pass. Matronly women did not wave, but they lifted their heads and I saw more than one murmuring the sacred words of prayer. Even with a death knight as my master, these were not the common reactions to our arrival. Oh, Sir Cedric usually drew plenty of staring, but those stares always came with none-too-subtle whispers, not with a tight silence as though the world was slowly crushing everybody’s lungs.

“Sir Cedric?” I began as we drew closer to the tumbled-down walls that surrounded the remaining tower (of course there would be a tower, why should a dragon have anything other than a tower?). “I don’t think I see any signs of a dragon.”

“Nor do I,” he agreed. “But look at the people. See them watching us? They need to be rescued from something, but I’m not sure it’s any dragon.”

The smattering of homes at our backs, we rode out onto the castle grounds. I handed Sir Cedric his shield, and this time he accepted. Since he could no longer use his shield hand, I had to help fit the straps over his forearm. “Be brave, Cori, and do as I say,” he ordered in a low tone. Would he have told another squire to be brave?

“Are you going to call out a challenge?” I whispered. After all, I couldn’t think of a single ballad involving a dragon fight that hadn’t included an eloquent call to battle.

“Even I am not that stupid,” Sir Cedric answered. “I’ll let the poets write the challenge in later—they’ll say it better, anyhow.”

We strode right across the rock-strewn courtyard toward the tower. Why did the dragon not strike? Surely it knew its advantage would be out in the open, not penned in by walls and stairs. I had scoffed lightly enough at damsels in distress, but now that I had no idea what in hellfire awaited us, I could have pissed down my leg. When Sir Cedric ordered me behind him, I obeyed with embarrassing willingness. My own arming sword drawn and my shield at the ready, I followed so closely on the knight’s heels that I’m lucky I didn’t trip on his spurs.

We had reached the stairs and had begun winding our way slowly up the passage when everything went to hell. I heard the wild jangling of mail and the echoing clamor of plate armor and then the world became a frenzy of clashing swords and soul-chilling war cries. Down the stairs poured a contingent of skeletons, swords raised and bleached frames clattering in metal. No light burned in their eye sockets, but they moved with the terrifying speed of a wounded boar as they bounded towards us. Sir Cedric met them in their frenzy, his own sword tearing into them and striking apart the weathered bones and rusting armor.

For my part, I wanted to freeze against the wall and sink into the stones, but I was too deep into fear for even that. All sense of time and existence melted away and left me standing with my sword and my shield and the shouted commands of my trainers ordering me onward. “Move! Thrust! Block! Harder, you idiot! Swing or you’re dead! Swing!” As I had done since that first day a trainer had pitted me and a wooden sword against a post, I fought and moved forward. Raw fear clawed at my mind as a dozen skeletons fought desperately to tear away my flesh.

We pushed through the warriors, cutting through their attack as they strained to cut through us. Not until Sir Cedric shattered the spine of the last attacker did I realize I had been growling and spraying spittle everywhere. I hoped the bards left that out of any ballads. Then it occurred to me that I would be fortunate to hear another ballad.

“This,” Sir Cedric commented as he gave me a moment to catch my breath, “is not the work of a dragon. Dragons hate undead, and I should know.”

We advanced, but our attack had taken us further up the twisting stairs than I had realized. The steps turned once more, and then the staircase opened into a large room. We had reached the top of the tower.
And there we found our dragon.

Muzzled and bound to the wall by a strip of leather, the taut-muscled dragon strained towards us, his scales the blackish-grey of clouds before a wild storm. A stench curled out to meet us: the metallic odor of spilled blood. My stomach gave an almighty heave and I just managed to fight the hot acid rising into my mouth.

“Who could muzzle a dragon? And what idiot only uses leather?” I asked after I swallowed my stomach back down.

“That would be me,” answered a voice that thrummed like summer rain and harp notes but touched my spine like icy fingers. “And the only thing that can bind a dragon is leather soaked in the blood of a young buck on a harvest moon.” Even Sir Cedric tensed when a woman emerged from amid the shadows of the thinly lit room. She stepped into a jagged shaft of light that lit her hair into a radiant haze of color and accentuated the unblemished smoothness of her eerily pale skin. Despite my young innocence, I knew those gold-flecked eyes sparking like an unchecked blaze of longing and promise could lure a man from any hearthside. No wonder Duke Amlick had chosen a dead man for this quest.

“Who are you?” Sir Cedric demanded, his sword and shield still set against attack.

“I am disappointed,” the woman said. “I had expected that Duke Amlick would send Lady Esla to rescue me. I had heard his pet death knight was engaged in a quest against a wizard.” She spoke to Sir Cedric, but those glittering eyes of hers did not leave me and the growing sensation that she was scrutinizing my soul did not help my frothing stomach. “Then again,” she continued and her voice turned to a thoughtful whisper, “this is even better.”

“Move towards my squire, and I will kill you,” Sir Cedric warned.

“Not if you cannot move,” she said and then, with a violent sweep of her arm and a clarion shout in a language I could not understand, the stones at Sir Cedric’s feet began to glisten and before he could react, they melted and slopped over his feet like gray mud, solidifying again so that he remained melded with the floor.

“Cori! Leave!” he hollered. A horribly tempting order. I even started to back away. But I was his squire. He had chosen me and I would not leave him. Gritting my teeth, I adjusted my grip on the sword and held my ground as I debated whether to close distance with a desperate charge or make the woman come for me.

“See, it is your youth and that spirit that makes you so desirable to me, Cori,” the woman said, her voice again soft on the surface and sharp as swords beneath. “The dragon’s blood will give me his power and his strength, and your blood will give me youth.”

I could think of only one response: “Go to Hell, you blasphemous tart!”

“But Hell is for the dead. I will live! Once I immerse myself in the dragon’s fresh blood, I will need only one more female. I wanted somebody with spirit, and now I get somebody whose blood will also give me youth.”

My defiant retorts went as useless as the dry spit in my mouth. But now I knew what had seemed wrong out on the countryside: I had seen men and women and boys, but I had seen no girls. This fiend had used her supply of worthy blood, and now that she had her dragon, she needed a young woman’s blood to complete whatever cruel ritual she intended. The thought of her frolicking about in my blood sizzled in my mind and forced my lost resolve back into my limbs.

Yelling, I lunged forward with my sword aloft and my whole being ready to strike. She knew. She knew I would not wait for her. Her hand flashed towards me, the air rippled, she raised her voice . . . and a shield smacked ringingly into her face. The air smashed against me like a pummeling wind and my sword clattered across the stone floor as I hit the wall behind me with such force that my jaw rattled.

My breath gone, I tried to scramble to my feet, only to find that instead of two feet, I had four. Oh gods. At the sorceress’ feet lay Sir Cedric’s shield, his severed hand still caught in the straps. While I struggled against panic, she advanced upon Sir Cedric.

Her young face marred with a bright line of blood, the sorceress lifted both arms as though about to call down the force of all evil upon my knight. And Sir Cedric just grinned. She began to speak the words that would undo the knight who had called me to be his squire. The only knight who had called me. Look after my knight, that was the first rule of being a squire. Whatever that bloody strumpet had turned me into, my head did not come up past her ankles. I didn’t care. I would sink my teeth into her calf and gnaw my way up her leg if I had to.

I would not watch her destroy my knight.

But as I coiled to pounce, Sir Cedric made his attack. His body fell forward as he struck with his sword. He missed, but that swamp trollop leapt away in surprise. His lower legs still jutting from his boots, Sir Cedric dragged himself across the floor, swiping at her with his sword. As he pressed his attack, I started to move and then recalled the incident with the Silver Knight. A sensible fellow, Sir Cedric had called him. Launching my tiny body at the sorceress would not be sensible. But as I watched the dragon straining against that leather muzzle, I knew what would be.

I leapt up onto the dragon’s leg and clawed and bit my way up its body. Below, the sorceress screamed out spells and bursts of light blazed through the room, but Sir Cedric managed to roll and dodge from her spells, pressing her back with sweeps of his sword. I reached the dragon’s neck and he must have understood my plan, because he lowered his head so that I could run along his spine and grab hold of the leather strap that held the muzzle. With only paws, I could not work the buckle, but I sank my teeth into the leather and chewed with a frenzy. The coppery taste of blood filled my mouth as I gnawed and I remembered the buck and the moonlight. What was with this woman and blood? A thoroughly unhealthy obsession.

A shout from the sorceress, another flash of light, a bellow of attack from Sir Cedric. I worked my jaw harder. The leather gave with a snap and the cords slid from the dragon’s face. Freed of the magic, the dragon heaved in earnest, setting his full weight against the tether. I heard the grating before Sir Cedric or his opponent. And why shouldn’t I, now that I had un-human ears? The blood-soaked leather might never give, but a bond is only as strong as the weakest point, and that point was the wall.

I sprang from the dragon and landed in a scuttling of paws as the tower itself trembled.

Wooden beams shattered above in a rain of splinters. Rocks cracked in the walls as the dragon tossed its head.

We were all going to die. Well, maybe not Sir Cedric, but the rest of us had the chance of the first frost in Hell.

The sorceress turned wildly, a spell still unsaid on her lips. Even Sir Cedric scrambled backwards and I dashed towards him. Terribly undignified, but since I was going to die as some small, furry creature anyhow, I burrowed against his shoulder. He wrapped his arms around me as the dragon gave a final heave and the entire wall tore away in a burst of rocks and timber.

Jaws wide and glowing with a fire that rumbled up from his innards, the dragon lowered his head and engulfed the sorceress. Her muted screams went sharp and shrill. Then came a grinding of massive teeth and the screams turned to silence. What remained of the sorceress disappeared as a large bulge down the dragon’s throat to be consumed by the fire glowing inside.
“Cori,” Sir Cedric said. “You can let go now, Cori. And if you wouldn’t mind, could you please go get my boots—I think that’s where I left my legs.”

“S-sorry,” I apologized as I released my grip on the knight. My grip. I had hands again. And I was not half-a-foot tall! I moved through the rubble and gathered Sir Cedric’s legs and both of our shields and swords.

“Um, not to ruin the moment,” I whispered to Sir Cedric as I handed over his legs, “but how are we getting down if you can’t walk?”

I had tried to be discrete, but dragons must have good ears, because this one looked at us with a congenial, if toothy, grin and said, “That hole in the wall is not big enough for me to fit through, but the stairs are plenty wide enough for me to get in here. If you will trust me, I can carry you to the bottom. I am not sure how long this tower can stand.”

“Well, my squire trusted you enough to release you,” Sir Cedric replied, “so I suppose we can trust you to help us down from here. Thank you.”

The mangled tower trembled with each of the dragon’s steps as we wound our way down the stairs, crunching shattered skeletons underfoot.
“So,” I said to the dragon once we had emerged from the tower and I had set to bandaging Sir Cedric’s appendages back in place, “what will you do since you cannot have this castle?”

“Ah, I admit it is a shame, but there are many an abandoned castle about. Or perhaps a cave would be better, less enticing to sorceresses.” Here the dragon displayed manners enough to stifle a poignantly-timed belch.

“So then,” the dragon continued, “what of the death knight and the squire who rescued a dragon from the damsel?”

“Well,” Sir Cedric began and looked towards me, “I have heard rumors that the questing hart has been seen near Duke Amlick’s court. It has been a long time since I have followed the legendary white stag.”

“Seriously? The questing hart? Do you think I’m ready for that?” Only the most worthy of knights set out after the white stag whose path led to the most heroic of ballads. And if I had to answer my own question, after what had happened that afternoon, I would say “no”.

“Ready? Hell no,” Sir Cedric answered. “But one day you’ll be taking your own squire out after it, and you’ll want to be ready for it then.”

I helped Sir Cedric back onto his horse and we wheeled about towards Duke Amlick’s castle.

“Sir?” I said as we rode towards the village. I still felt the last tingles of light-headed relief and threw caution to the wind, figuring if I was going to ask, it might as well be now. “Did you choose me for a squire as a favor to Duke Amlick? Because I’m a Forsmire?”

“Yes, I chose you because you’re a Forsmire,” he said and then laughed.

“How is that funny?” I demanded through a tightening jaw as heat swept up my neck.

“Oh, you think I chose you because of your illustrious family name.” He actually snorted at the last bit. “I chose you because you’re a Forsmire, that’s true enough. But mostly to hear about the scene your father makes when he finds out you’re riding with me. After all, it was your great-great grandfather who challenged me to steal off with Death’s robes. You don’t think I came up with that idea on my own, do you?”

Is that reason better or worse than pity?

“But believe me, I wouldn’t have chosen a squire who’s utterly incompetent. Although I admit it has meant a wait of a good many years. Not much of a comeuppance if I get myself destroyed in the process, is it?”

And somehow it was funny. Quite funny. And I, Cori Forsmire, chosen because I am not utterly incompetent and not as a favor to my family, sat a little taller as I rode beside my knight.

About the Author

Melion Traverse

Melion Traverse lives with one spouse, two dogs and an acceptable amount of chaos. Melion’s works have appeared in, or are forthcoming in, Fantasy Scroll Magazine, Deep Magic, Havok, T. Gene Davis’s Speculative Blog, and Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores. When not writing, Melion plays with swords, practices martial arts, and blogs haphazardly.

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About the Narrators

Graeme Dunlop

Graeme Dunlop is a Software Solution Architect. Despite his somewhat mixed accent, he was born in Australia. He loves the spoken word and believes it has the ability to lift the printed word above and beyond cold words on a page. He and Barry J. Northern founded Cast of Wonders in 2011 and can be found narrating or hosting the occasional episode, or working on projects behind the scenes. He has read stories for all of Escape Artists podcasts. Graeme lives in Melbourne, Australia with his wife Amanda, and crazy boy dog, Jake. Follow him on Twitter.

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Dani Daly

Dani Daly is a former assistant editor of Cast of Wonders, and narrating stories is just one of the things she loves to do. She’s a retired roller derby player and current small batch soap maker, for instance. Soaps and balms from StoryTime Soap Company are crafted while listening to audio fiction of all sorts. She rants on twitter as @danooli_dani, if that’s your thing. Or you can visit the EA forums, where she moderates the Cast of Wonders boards.

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Cheyenne Wright

Cheyenne Wright is a wizard that can turn into a dragon, or a dragon posing as a wizard. He forgets which. Either way, He makes comics, Art for games, and HU-mans can contribute to his hoard via

He narrates short stories for a variety of venues where he is known as Podcasting’s Mr. Buttery ManVoice, and is an EA Storyteller.

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Katherine Inskip

Katherine Inskip is the editor for Cast of Wonders. She teaches astrophysics for a living and spends her spare time populating the universe with worlds of her own.  You can find more of her stories and poems at Motherboard, the Dunesteef, Luna Station Quarterly, Abyss & Apex and Polu Texni.

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